Peripheral artery disease (PAD), a circulatory system disease, affects over 8 million people in the United States 40 and older. The arteries that carry oxygenated blood to the body’s tissues become narrowed, decreasing blood flow to the extremities and robbing them of essential nutrients.

The most common cause of PAD is atherosclerosis, where a sticky plaque made of fat, cholesterol, protein, calcium, and cellular debris builds up on the arterial walls and eventually hardens, though it can also result from an injury that causes chronic inflammation in the blood vessels.

At Comprehensive Vascular Care, with locations in Southfield and Novi, Michigan, our board-certified vascular physicians focus on relieving the pain and other symptoms of peripheral artery disease for their patients in the Southfield and Novi, Michigan areas.

They also focus on educating patients about their condition, so they’ve put together this guide to help you understand the signs that indicate you have PAD.

What are the risk factors for and complications of PAD?

PAD’s main risk factors are the same as for coronary (heart) artery disease, because both develop from plaque buildup. These factors include:

  • Smoking
  • Getting older (especially after 65)
  • Obesity (a BMI over 30)
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure (damages blood vessels)
  • Diabetes
  • A family history

People who smoke and have diabetes have the highest risk of developing PAD, since both reduce blood flow.

Those whose PAD develops because of atherosclerosis are at the greatest risk of also developing:

  • Critical limb ischemia: slow-healing, open sores on legs and feet that become easily infected, leading to tissue death and possible amputation
  • Stroke and heart attack: plaque builds up in arteries supplying blood to brain and heart

5 signs of peripheral artery disease

Many people with PAD have mild-to-no symptoms, but claudication, leg pain when walking, is often present. It can vary from a minor annoyance to so crippling you can’t walk.

Other than claudication, the five signs of PAD include:

  • Leg weakness or numbness
  • Painful lower leg cramps
  • Orange/brown discoloration of the legs and feet
  • Slow-growing hair and toenails
  • Temperature difference in the legs

Diagnosis and treatment of PAD

In addition to taking a detailed medical history and examining your risk factors for PAD, your Comprehensive Vascular Care physician takes advantage of our on-site diagnostic testing to confirm or rule out a PAD diagnosis. Tests may include:

  • Ultrasound of blood vessels: determines any structural changes
  • Measuring the ankle-brachial index (ABI): compares the pressure in your ankle to the pressure in your arm (a measure of blood flow)
  • Performing an angiography: shows how blood flows through your arteries

Treatment for PAD has two major goals: to manage the pain and other symptoms so you can get back to your daily routine, and to stop the progression of atherosclerosis.

We encourage our patients to meet these goals with lifestyle changes, especially when they’re in the early stages of PAD. The most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of any complications if you smoke is to quit. And a supervised exercise program, where you’re doing some form of exercise regularly, can improve your symptoms dramatically, whether you smoke or not.

You’ll probably need medical treatment, as well, and we usually start with medications. These are designed to prevent blood clots, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, control pain, and reduce blood sugar if you’re a diabetic. Your doctor recommends the most appropriate one(s) based on your history and symptoms.

If the medications don’t help, the next step is an angioplasty. In this minimally invasive procedure, your doctor threads a small, flexible tube through your affected artery to remove any blockages. He may also need to place a stent in the artery to hold it open so your blood flows efficiently.

Bypass surgery is another potential treatment for PAD, though it’s more invasive. Your doctor creates a synthetic graft to allow blood to bypass the blocked artery, improving your circulation.

If you have any of the symptoms of peripheral artery disease, or if you’ve got a number of risk factors, it’s time to contact Comprehensive Vascular Care to get your circulatory health checked out. Call us at either of our locations, or schedule your appointment online.

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